15 San Francisco Landmarks You Must See

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A cable car on a busy street with cars, trees, and buildings around
Using San Francisco cable cars offers an easy way to hop between famous landmarks

Since the Gold Rush of 1849, San Francisco has become a vibrant city known for its bustling neighborhoods and attractions. The city is also home to many world-renowned landmarks and cultural hubs, from Chinatown to Ghirardelli Square and the infamous Pier 39.

If you are planning a visit to San Francisco city, some of the North American landmarks you can't miss include Fisherman's Wharf, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. There are also some lesser-known local landmarks to visit that have to be on your to-do list.

To find out about all the top attractions to see when in town, continue reading to learn about some of the most famous San Francisco landmarks.

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15 Landmarks in San Francisco, CA

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San Francisco Landmarks Map

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The red Golden Gate Bridge is one of the famous San Francisco landmarks
Built in the 1930s, Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the US

Golden Gate Bridge

This bridge is probably one of the most iconic San Francisco landmarks. It's a suspension bridge that spans the one-mile-wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, also known as the Golden Gate, hence the name.

Designed by Joseph Strauss in 1917, construction of the bridge officially began in 1933. It opened in 1937, and at the time, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest and tallest bridge in the world.

Despite losing that title, it remains a San Francisco landmark that's known around the world. This attraction even inspired the San Francisco nickname, the Golden Gate City.

☂️ See the Golden Gate Bridge on a tour

Beach houses facing a small island with a large fortress on top at sunset
Alcatraz Island is one of the most famous San Francisco landmarks

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is one of the historic sites in San Francisco, known for its operation as a prison from the 1930s to the 1960s. The island's location and its secure military fortification led to its use as a penitentiary. Notably, it's been called an inescapable prison due to being surrounded by water on all sides.

Today, it is a significant tourist attraction and world landmark that has been featured in several films, like Escape from Alcatraz and X-Men: The Last Stand.

☂️ Explore Alcatraz Island on a tour

Small buildings with a long suspension bridge and mountains in the background
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, known locally as the Bay Bridge, is another of the longest bridges in the world that is found in San Francisco.

Opening just half a year earlier than the Golden Gate Bridge in 1936, this spectacular structure links downtown San Francisco with the city of Oakland.

It was reconstructed after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused part of the bridge to collapse. However, the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge closely resembles the original from the 1930s.

☂️ Experience San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge with a tour

Up-close shot of Chinese red lanterns hanging over a street
San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest in the US

Chinatown

Established in 1848, San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the largest Chinatowns outside Asia. It is also the oldest in the United States.

Behind stone-carved dragon gates, this historic and unique neighborhood offers colorful shops, antique street lights, lanterns, and pagoda roofs.

Spanning from Stockton to Montgomery Street, visitors to Chinatown can try dim sum, watch locals play mahjong, or practice Taichi.

There are also various restaurants, markets, shops, fortune tellers, and temples to explore in this big neighborhood. Visiting Chinatown is one of the best things to do at night in San Francisco.

☂️ Explore Chinatown on a tour

Twin Peaks Tavern

Opened in 1935, Twin Peaks Tavern is an iconic landmark of San Francisco. Located in the historic corner of Market and Castro, it was one of the first gay bars in the city.

Twin Peaks Tavern is located near the two prominent hills known as the Twin Peaks, hence its name! It is also known for its large windows, which were not the norm for gay bars several decades ago.

☂️ Visit Twin Peaks Tavern with a tour

A tall white pointy tower with a clock, near a pier with buildings behind it
The Ferry Building was a terminal for ferries before becoming a large food market

Ferry Building Marketplace

At the foot of Market Street stands this historic landmark in San Francisco turned gourmet food emporium and farmer's market. For more than 100 years, the clock tower of the Ferry Building has been the icon of the San Francisco waterfront.

Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building was a transportation hub for those arriving in the city by boat. After the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge opened, the Ferry Building lost its use and was converted into office spaces.

After four years of reconstruction, the Ferry Building opened in 2003 as the Ferry Building Marketplace, a world-class public food market.

☂️ Explore the Ferry Building on a tour

Pagodas facing a pond with trees and plants around it
Golden Gate Park is larger than NYC's Central Park

Golden Gate Park

Larger than New York's Central Park, Golden Gate Park is a massive urban park and one of the famous landmarks in California that you can't miss exploring. It has also been part of the city for a long time, opening in 1870.

This natural landmark of San Francisco features many unique elements, ranging from statues and windmills to stunning gardens, lakes, and waterfalls.

In addition, you can find some cultural attractions here, like The Music Concourse and The de Young Museum. Other terrific sites to explore within the park include the Japanese Tea Garden and the California Academy of Sciences.

☂️ Experience Golden Gate Park with a tour

A view from below of a white concrete column with trees around it, under a blue sky
Coit Tower stands on Telegraph Hill and has a platform that offers a 360-degree view

Coit Tower

Coit Tower opened in 1933 and sits on Telegraph Hill. You can take the wooden stairway, also known as the Filbert Steps, up to the top of Telegraph Hill to admire the splendid views of the bay and Coit Tower.

In addition, you can head into the tower to go to its viewing platform, which offers panoramic vistas of the city. Moreover, the tower contains murals from 1934 that exhibit the period's business, agriculture, and public life.

Telegraph Hill itself is also an incredible place to watch the sunrise and sunset, with great vantage points in all directions.

☂️ Join a tour to see Coit Tower

A stone structure with a dome and columns, next to a lagoon and green trees
The Palace of Fine Arts was built in 1915 and is now a popular wedding venue

Palace of Fine Arts

Constructed for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts is one of the few buildings from the exhibition that survives today.

Although it continued to host exhibits years after the 1915 event, the original structure was demolished in 1964 because of its inadequate structural integrity. However, in 2010, the palace and the lagoon were restored, becoming a favorite place among locals and tourists. It is also popular for weddings due to its stunning scenery.

In addition, The Palace of Fine Arts Theater, located within, offers many shows throughout the year. This landmark is a must-visit on any San Francisco itinerary!

The Swedish American Hall

Established in 1907, The Swedish American Hall is one of the lesser-known historical landmarks in San Francisco. The Stockholm architect August Nordin designed this grand music venue where musicians from across the globe perform.

This building is most famous for Cafe Du Nord, located at its basement level. Interestingly, this spot was also a speakeasy and has continuously been named as one of the best venues to see a live show in the city.

A busy public square with people and cars parked nearby, under a clear blue sky
Pier 39 is one of the most well-known tourist sites in Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is another of many famous landmarks in San Francisco, California. The area initially housed Italian immigrant fishermen who came to the city during the gold rush.

They settled in the North Beach neighborhood close to the wharf and fished for local delicacies, like Dungeness crab. Despite its redevelopment into a tourist attraction, the site still has several active fishermen.

This bustling spot by the water also features hotels, restaurants, exciting attractions, specialty shops, coastal scenery, and much more. Pier 39 is one of the most famous SF landmarks here and has many sea lions that you must photograph!

An aerial view of vehicles crossing a long bridge that sits across a bay
The San Francisco Bay is designated a Wetland of International Importance

San Francisco Bay

Designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention in 2013, San Francisco Bay is an ecologically important estuary in California.

The region surrounding it is known as the San Francisco Bay Area, or simply the Bay Area. In this area are the large cities of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland.

In the area around San Francisco Bay, you can hike or cycle on newly built paths, admiring the views as you do. You can also enjoy water activities, like boat tours around the bay. There are opportunities to bird-watch and explore the wetlands as well.

☂️ Join a tour to see San Francisco Bay

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A modern building with a sign that says "SFMOMA" and an A in a red circle on the roof
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art features seven floors of exhibitions

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the most important cultural landmarks in the city. Initially founded in 1935 in the War Memorial Building, the museum opened in the SoMa district on Third Street in 1995.

In 2016, SFMOMA reopened after an expansion project that doubled the number of gallery rooms and greatly expanded the public space. SFMOMA now offers seven floors of art and world exhibitions to explore.

Some notable features in the museum include a vast living wall and pieces by renowned artists like Frida Kahlo, Matisse, and Jeff Koons. You can also enjoy breathtaking city views from the outdoor gardens and terraces.

☂️ Experience the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with a tour

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A stone building with columns, arched windows, and colored banners
The San Francisco Opera is housed in the War Memorial Opera House

San Francisco Opera

Right across from City Hall on Van Ness Avenue, the San Francisco Opera is another of the best cultural and historical places in San Francisco.

Gaetano Merola established this opera company in 1923. He eventually helped establish the War Memorial Opera House, the first opera house in the U.S. to be funded entirely through donations.

With his newly built relationships and funding from local businesses, Merola founded the San Francisco Opera Association, the oldest surviving opera company on the West Coast.

☂️ Join a tour to see the San Francisco Opera

Illuminated buildings next to a bay with boats on it at sunset
Ghirardelli Square is named after the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is a famous landmark in San Francisco. It comprises a public square filled with specialty shops, restaurants, and hotels. This site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 to preserve it.

The square got its name from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which made it the headquarters of its company in 1893. In the early 1960s, another company acquired the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and moved its headquarters away from Ghirardelli Square.

To save the square from being demolished, William M. Roth and his mother purchased the land in 1962. Opening in 1964, Ghirardelli Square became a retail and entertainment complex. Moreover, the lower floors of the Clock Tower within the square are now home to Ghirardelli Square's primary chocolate shop.

☂️ Visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience with a tour

Conclusion

Nothing is more representative of the Golden State than San Francisco. It's the perfect place to visit for those looking for natural scenery, culture, and history. These San Fran landmarks are just some of the many fantastic places to visit in this major US city.

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Written by Ann Chang

wanderfulchange FORMER WRITER Usually based in the US, Ann is a nomad who has lived and worked in Chile, Taiwan, and the UK, and explored North and South America, Asia, and Europe. She loves the outdoors, museums, and chilling in cafes.

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